(John Shand’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 4/5; Photo: The play essentially a one-hander, although Jessica Bentley is also intermittently present.CREDIT:PRUEDENCE UPTON.)
Drama Theatre, April 4
Until May 20
Reviewed by JOHN SHAND
It builds like a storm. You see the cloud-front of abuse, disparagement and disrespect lining the horizon from the outset, gradually growing closer, darker and more intense, until the last 15 minutes of Joanna Murray- Smith’s play about Julia Gillard become an inevitability: the anti-misogyny speech the then-Prime Minister delivered in the Australian Parliament on October 9, 2012. This not only scorched the hide of its direct target, opposition leader Tony Abbott, it also shook the chamber’s walls and echoed around the world as a rallying cry that enough was enough.
Murray-Smith’s new play details the appalling treatment of Gillard by Abbott and his party (including the women and infantile Young Liberals), his sycophants in the Murdoch media, the spiteful Alan Jones and even one-time feminist Germaine Greer. But the play mainly contains the imagined thoughts of Gillard along the way. The writer’s narrative skill is plain in the build-up, in the conclusion’s inevitability and in the fact a verbatim delivery of Gillard’s speech slots so seamlessly into the play.
It’s essentially a one-hander, with the Justine Clarke as Gillard, although Jessica Bentley is also intermittently present in a primarily non-speaking role. Sarah Goodes’ unfussy yet precise Sydney Theatre Company production (subtly shaded by Steve Francis’ music) casts Clarke adrift on a wide, empty stage, which designer Renee Mulder has framed with reflective screens, so the sense of Gillard being alone is infinitely compounded. If she is to survive the vitriol, she must do it unaided; must dig inside the depths of her being until out pours a speech that was extemporised, apart from some researched examples of Abbott’s sexism.